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What is Eczema and what causes it?

Posted on: April 25, 2019 by Louise

It has been estimated that 15 million people in the UK could be living with Eczema. Research informs us that where there is a breakdown of the skin barrier this can lead to exposure of allergens via the skin which may result in sensitisation (production of IgE antibodies) and the development of an allergy. 

Eczema causes redness, itchiness, dryness, and inflammation of the skin, it is recommended that even when eczema skin appears to be in good condition that emollient use is continued to replace the moisture in already dry skin and reduce the risk of flare ups where the skin becomes inflamed and itchy. While the cause isn’t fully understood, identifying and avoiding potential triggers is one way to maintain clear and healthy skin.

Mild to moderate eczema may respond well to over-the-counter (OTC) topical creams. If you have severe eczema, you may need to take additional measures to limit exposure to certain triggers.

If you aren’t sure what sparks your outbreaks, here’s a look at 13 common triggers and how to avoid them.

1. Food

Certain foods can worsen your eczema. You might experience a flare-up after you consume foods and ingredients that are inflammatory. Examples of these foods include sugar, refined carbohydrates, gluten, red meats, and dairy.

Similarly, eating foods that you’re allergic to can trigger an inflammatory response and make your eczema symptoms worse.

If you do have a food allergy, one way to pinpoint foods that may exacerbate your symptoms is through an elimination diet. Write down everything you eat and drink for a few weeks. Then, make a note of the days your eczema appears to worsen to track patterns.

If flares seem to occur after eating dairy, for example, don’t consume any dairy products for a few days or weeks. Monitor your symptoms for improvement. If your eczema improves, slowly reintroduce dairy back into your diet.

If symptoms return, dairy is likely an eczema trigger for you. Removing these foods from your diet could promote healthier skin. If you think you might be allergic to a certain food, bring this up to your doctor. They can refer you to an allergist for further testing.

2. Cold air

You may welcome the arrival of winter, but chillier temperatures can cause a flare  up in some people.

Dry air combined with indoor heating systems can dry out your skin. Too much dry air can zap your skin of natural moisture. Dryness often leads to itching, which then leads to scratching and inflammation.

To protect your skin, apply thick moisturisers and apply them immediately after bathing or showering. Petroleum jelly is a good option. Lotions may not be as effective at treating winter skin. A humidifier in your home may also help.

3. Hot weather

On the other hand, hot weather can also irritate eczema. Heavy perspiration can lead to itchy skin.

Stay as cool as possible to limit sweating. Also, drink plenty of fluids to avoid overheating, sit or stand in shady areas, and use a fan.

4. Exposure to water

Prolonged exposure to water is another trigger. Water can cause dry skin, which can lead to persistent itching.

Apply moisturiser to your skin after bathing or swimming, and take lukewarm baths or showers to prevent drying out your skin.

5. Stress and anxiety

Emotional stress doesn’t cause eczema, but it can provoke symptoms.

The body releases a hormone called cortisol when under stress. In large doses, such as when dealing with chronic and ongoing stress, cortisol increases inflammation throughout the body. This can lead to skin inflammation and an eczema flare.

Deep breathing, meditation, getting plenty of rest, and regular exercise are keys to coping with stressful situations. The ability to reduce stress may keep your eczema under control.

If you have difficulty controlling anxiety or stress on your own, talk to your doctor about treatments or therapies.

6. Detergent

Laundry detergents can lead to problems in people with sensitive skin. Many detergents contain chemicals and fragrances that irritate the skin, causing dryness, itchiness, and redness.

If your eczema appears to worsen after laundry day, switch to a fragrance-free detergent that’s safe for sensitive skin.

7. Scented products

Similar to laundry detergents, scented products that you apply to the body can also worsen eczema. Some people with eczema also have contact dermatitis, which is when rashes occur after contact with a substance. Scented soaps, lotions, perfumes, shower gels, and other personal care items can irritate the skin and trigger a flare.

Look for hypoallergenic, scent-free body products. Closely monitor your symptoms after starting a new product. If your symptoms worsen, discontinue use.

8. Fabrics

Sometimes, it’s not the detergent or scented product that causes an eczema flare, but rather the fabrics you wear. You may be sensitive to materials like polyester or wool, which can trigger itchiness and redness.

Avoid wearing any clothes that appear to worsen your condition, or wear an extra layer under the garment to protect your skin.

9. Airborne allergens

Airborne allergens like dust mites, pollen, pet dander, and mold can be eczema triggers.

To keep your home allergen-free, dust and vacuum regularly, and wash your bedding at least once a week. Also, look into replacing your carpet with hardwood floors.

OTC or prescription antihistamines can help control these symptoms.

10. Exercise

A heavy workout could lead to heavy sweating, making your eczema symptoms worse.

If you have flares after exercising, lower the intensity of your workout or choose a cooler time of day to complete workout sessions. Exercise in the early morning hours before the heat of the day, or keep a fan nearby.

11. Skin infections

If left untreated, severe eczema can lead to skin damage, putting you at risk for infections. At the same time, developing a fungal, viral, or bacterial skin infection may trigger an eczema flare.

See a doctor if you notice any changes to your skin. You may need an antibacterial or antifungal medication to fight an infection and, in turn, relieve your eczema symptoms.

12. Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes can also have an effect on your eczema. This is due to a drop in estrogen, which can occur during menopause and pregnancy, and before a menstrual cycle.

This decrease causes the skin to lose water, interfering with its ability to maintain moisture. This can lead to dryness and make your eczema worse.

While you might not be able to avoid this completely, talk to your doctor about potential ways to regulate your hormones. Also, make sure to moisturize more than usual during this time.

13. Saliva

Eczema is common in babies and children, so it’s important to protect their delicate skin. Eczema patches can develop around the cheeks and chin of a drooling baby.

Saliva or drooling doesn’t cause eczema, but it can dry out a baby’s skin and cause itchy, red spots. To avoid this, apply lotions or creams that are safe for sensitive skin.


Managing your eczema doesn’t only involve the use of creams and medications. It also involves awareness of your potential triggers.

Keep track of your day-to-day tasks to identify what could be worsening your symptoms. Then, take the necessary steps to reduce exposure to those foods or products. Over time, you may see improvements in your symptoms.

If you are unsure of what triggers your eczema flare ups the Devon Allergy Clinic can assist you with Allergy Testing for food and environmental triggers, 

Additionally there was also a 2016 study that suggested probiotics can have a positive effect on the symptoms of eczema. The balance of bacteria in the digestive system is one factor that affects the immune system. The reason many people use probiotics is that they believe they increase healthful gut bacteria.

People who use probiotics for eczema believe they make the immune system stronger. They reason that by strengthening the immune system, people can combat the faulty immune response that causes eczema. 

Please get in touch with us for any allergy and gut related enquires on 01803 41100, additionally you can keep in touch with us on social media Facebook, Twitter  and Instagram.

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